Let’s start this post with a disclaimer.
Like many of the questions that have been asked in this series, I feel there is an experience or heartfelt purpose behind it. I hope that whatever the reason behind your questions these posts bring life into those situations instead of causing more concern or pain. This may be especially true of today’s question.
The paper reads…
As I did in class I’m going to do, what in math terms would be called, giving you my answer and then showing the work.
So with that in mind. YES. It is a sad thought that for some life ends so quickly, but this is the nature of the world we’re in, it happens every day. And God loves all that he has made, he loves those children and welcomes them into his perfect love.
When this topic is brought up, people will throw around a term called “age of accountability” . This is generally thought of as the age (around 11-13) when a child becomes “accountable” for sin. Up to this point they have been seen as “innocent” under God’s protection.
A couple of things to note about this. One, this concept isn’t represented in the Bible. In the Bible there is no definitive age where all of a sudden you are “now held responsible for your actions.” Two, underlining this idea is that someone who is just starting puberty, and who’s brain still has at least 12 or so more years of cognitive development, is now capable of making a choice that impacts their eternal journey. Three, it seems to assume that while God would graciously save us before this age because of his love, he decides to stop after it. I think all of these ideas falls short of the picture of God’s grace and the work of Jesus.
So my YES, answer hinges on something different. Simply, God is love, and just, and gracious. These are cores to understanding God because these are characteristics found in Jesus, the perfect revelation of God. Rejecting a child from God’s presence is none of these things.
If we’re looking for God’s approach to children we need look no further than Jesus’ reaction to them. Mark 10:13-16 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Did these children have the right theology? Did they go to church? Had they been baptized? Did they say the right prayers? No. Jesus accepted and loved them. Thus in the sad and heart wrenching event when children die, Jesus also accepts them, into the presence of his Father.
Behind this whole question is the issue of Heaven and Hell as a whole. What are they, what do they look like, who “goes where”.
Let’s face it that is a good, yet big, question. This is a question that scholars and theologians talk about a lot. In my humble opinion some, if not a lot, of the talk about this subject spends so much time in the theoretical world of things that we will not know while we are alive, that is has little practical implication for following Jesus now. However, there is some discussion that is helpful in this regards. (I should say, I have nothing against speculation about the future realities of these things. In fact Jesus and his early followers were very much focused on the full coming of God’s Kingdom in the future. That being said, Jesus and his early followers also emphatically declared that God’s Kingdom was breaking into the present and that real, Kingdom, Spirit-filled, life was available now).
So with that in mind, let me turn you to some good resources to start you on your journey.
For an imaginative envisioning of this topic, I’d highly recommend C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. I’ve read it 3 or 4 times and the pictures he paints are so interesting and thought provoking I always seem to be inspired by this one. He captures a lot of great ideas in this one.
If you’re looking for something to listen to or watch on the topic. I would also recommend this lesson by Greg Boyd. In it he presents his view of this issue. Even if you don’t agree with him he brings up some very interesting points to lead you further in the discussion.
Thirdly but not lastly, I’d recommend a book by Rob Bell called Love Wins (or Love Wins – For Teens). This book discusses topics such as Jesus’ use of the word hell or Gehenna (γέεννα) in Greek. Which was a real place with connotation for the Jews. It was the ancient location of Canaanite child sacrifice, and some commentators have held that at the time of Jesus it was a Roman burning garbage dump. This book also discusses that Jesus talked about life in the Kingdom being a present experience. Life in the Kingdom was contrasted to life in Gehenna which can also be seen as a present experience (this doesn’t need to exclude a future one, but gives food for thought.)
Again these resources aren’t me saying, “Read these and believe what these people believe.” These are for you to engage in the conversation and the issue, in ways that are helpful.
Let the journey continue, let us rest in the grace and peace of God knowing that Jesus has reconciled us to him, let us be bringers of God’s Kingdom working to bring heaven to earth as Jesus prayed, “God’s will, on Earth as it is in Heaven”, and let the questions keep rolling.